2013 School Board Candidate Forum

NOTE: In this week’s edition, the questions were out of order for Ennis school board candidate John Scully’s answers to the School Board Candidate Q&A. Therefore, his answers did not match up with the questions. The Madisonian apologizes for this mistake, and has published a corrected version here on our website and will also run the corrected version in next week’s paper.

As school board elections from around the county near, The Madisonian engaged candidates in a written forum. In order to provide the community with information on each candidate and their platforms, The Madisonian sent each candidate six questions. Four of those questions were the same regardless of which school a candidate is running for. The last two pertain to specific issues unique to the school the candidate is hoping to serve as a trustee. Answers were edited for word count only. Each answer had to be close to 150 words. The Madisonian did not edit for content.

School boards elections are May 7.

 

ENNIS

JOHN SCULLY

 Why are you running for a position on the Ennis School Board?

My parents were teachers, very active in all public school issues.  All four of their children were certified to teach.  Throughout my career I have been involved in public education issues. (Bozeman School Board, Montana Board of Regents, Chair of the Public Education Business Coalition, Denver Colorado, Governing Board of three Colorado Universities, etc.)  I will always be concerned about and be supportive of quality public education.

What do you believe qualifies and prepares you for this position?

I have acquired knowledge of the operation of public schools in two states at all levels, including charter schools, and have helped resolve many difficult issues.  I will be an informed active participant on the School Board and will apply my business and law background when required.

Now that the audit has been done, what major issues are ahead for the Ennis School Board?

(1.)Resolve issues with TRS.  (2.) Training regarding appropriate budget process and funding mechanisms.  (3.) Resolve any collateral issues re: budget structure that have occurred.

What can the school board do to fix the divisions within the community?

 It will take time.  Focus on process not people.  Recognize the fiduciary duties that a Montana School Board owes to the taxpayer.  Provide open, direct dialogue internally and externally within human resource management guidelines.  Provide adequate information to the public when required or requested.  Act with integrity and reasoned decisions.

What are the three qualities that the school board needs the most now and how do you exemplify them?

I am committed to the conduct required by my answer to #3.

If elected what do you believe should be the school board’s first order of business?

Resolve the issues with TRS while concluding budget and staffing matters in preparation for next school year.

 

MARIA LAKE

Why are you running for a position on the Ennis School Board?

To serve others, primarily the district’s children.  Being on the Board is a trusted position and includes working in concert with the Superintendent, administration and all staff to create new and maintain existing opportunities for the success of the students.   When I placed my name on the ballot no one else had stepped forward and it was not clear that the two potential vacancies would be filled.

What do you believe qualifies and prepares you for this position?

My background in business, finance, construction and teamwork will add balance on the board.  That being said, I fully recognize the huge learning curve that I’m facing.  My recent participation on the Budget Committee has provided a window into the process that lies ahead.

Now that the audit has been done, what major issues are ahead for the Ennis School Board?

Certainly the resolution of the Teachers Retirement System claim and the best possible use of the Continuing Education (Adult Ed) budget fund balance are of high priority.  Keeping the tax rate low while not reducing any programs or staff will need to remain a priority.

What can the school board do to fix the divisions within the community?

The Board needs to personally demonstrate a spirit of respect for one another and for all citizens, regardless of one’s opinion.  A difference of opinion need not be regarded as good or bad, right or wrong.  All parties must be above reproach and demonstrate respect.  You can be assured that I hold myself to that charge.  The only way I know of to repair a relationship is for all parties to be truly willing to work together for the common good.  Each of our differences as individuals is what brings balance to a relationship.  Let’s not let yesterday spoil tomorrow.  If elected to this Board I will serve you as an instrument to help build bonds of trust within the district including teachers, students, staff, parents and community.

What are the three qualities that the school board needs the most now and how do you exemplify them?

I would have to choose trust, which includes respect, communication and selfless decision-making.  The school board not only should demonstrate these qualities but each should be returned by the citizens of the community.

Professionally I can see that I successfully execute these qualities each day in my work as a Loan Officer.  Personally, the best reflection of how I am able to carry out these qualities is in the love that is returned to me when I enter a room with children I know.  It is very humbling when one learns that they are looked up to and their decisions are affecting others, including those who do not yet possess the skills to make those decisions for themselves.  It holds me accountable!

If elected what do you believe should be the school board’s first order of business?

If not resolved between now and that date, a resolution of the TRS claim will be of utmost priority to the board.

 

MICHAEL RICHMANN

Why are you running for a position on the Ennis School Board?

Our community is at an important crossroads. We have a valuable opportunity for growth and a renewed community spirit. I want to contribute to that process. With leadership that will listen to all sides and be respectful of everyone’s opinion, we can tear down these walls that separate us. I challenge everyone to do what I intend to do myself, whether I’m elected or not – make the effort to start a conversation with someone you disagree with. When you go to a ball game, sit next to that person you’ve stopped talking to and join together in a victory cheer for our boys and girls. At the 4th of July parade this year, let’s all share our common pride in this community and country by standing together in unity and with respect for each other.

What do you believe qualifies and prepares you for this position?

I have owned and managed my own businesses for over 25 years and I recognize the value of good employees. I know how important it is to listen and to treat both employees and clients respectfully. I am a commodities trader and I have learned the importance of risk assessment and commitment to a plan. But the most important attributes are not measured by skill or occupational competence. They are measured by courage, integrity, wisdom, and the judgement of character. Through my record of regular attendance at Board meetings over the last 3 years and consistently speaking out for transparency and accountability, I have already proven that I am committed to the beginning of a new era for the Ennis community guided by the principles of honesty, inclusion, and respect.

Now that the audit has been done, what major issues are ahead for the Ennis School Board?

 The audit by Denning, Downey Associates exposed the disarray that our finances are in. We have so much money in funds that we can’t use (for example, $2.7 million in Adult Ed.) yet we are facing shortfalls in our General Fund to cover the legitimate expenses of teacher’s salaries and operating costs. We need to formulate a long-term plan that will allow for the reduction of these funds down to reasonable levels and then transferring the excess to be used for legitimate purposes and for reducing taxes.

Another major issue is the quality of our legal representation. Over the last three years, our Superintendent has been replaced and our auditor has been replaced. It is also essential that our attorney be replaced.

What can the School Board do to fix the divisions within the community?

The school board can do its job honestly and openly and prove to the community that it can be trusted. The citizens of our District who have only asked for the truth are not responsible for this divisiveness or for its remedy. Ennis is one of the strongest and most active small communities in the entire state of Montana and we will survive the consequences of our previous mistakes. When we all can rally around the truth and start from a clean slate, our divisions will disappear. I believe we must and we can restore a sense of civility and forgiveness.

What are the three qualities that the school board needs the most now and how do you exemplify them?

a. Accountability: For a public entity, like a School District, accountability is ALWAYS the quality most needed. And that accountability needs to be to the voters, not individuals.

b. Transparency: Superintendent Overstreet must be commended for putting together a public committee that is providing much-needed transparency in the budget process. He has opened up the books and is capitalizing on the considerable expertise of interested citizens.

c. Inclusion: Discussions at the School Board level should focus on issues. We are not all going to agree on all topics, but the debate should be civil and respectful, and should include the opinions of those who differ. This sort of discourse can lead to higher educational quality and set a good example for our kids – a goal we can all agree on.

If elected what do you believe should be the school board’s first order of business?

The overriding issue for the next several years that needs both immediate and continuous attention will be implementing a structured financial plan to deal with our problem of too much money where it isn’t needed and too little where it is. This is a complex challenge and there are strict legal conditions that have to be met to accomplish it. But there are significant benefits for us in doing it, including: reduced taxes, teacher’s salary increases, an expanded foreign exchange program, better school security, new programs, or other priorities. The biggest benefit would be the normalcy and reason that it would bring to our finances and the establishment of community trust needed to support future mill levies.

 

TWIN BRIDGES

ALLISON WENTZEL

Why are you running for a position on the Twin Bridges School Board?

One of the most important responsibilities that can be assigned to any citizen is helping to plan the education of the community’s youth.  I have a sincere desire to serve the community, rather than a desire for personal glory or to achieve a personal goal. I am willing to invest the significant time and energy required by board service.  I have found my service as a board member rewarding when we work as a team to confront tough challenges and work to overcome them to the benefit of our youth.

What do you believe qualifies and prepares you for this position?

Over the past three years, as a Twin Bridges board member, I have exhibited sound judgment; an even temper, a willingness to collaborate and a sincere interest in the education of the youth in my community. I know that all of these attributes both qualifies and prepares me to be an asset to the Twin Bridges School Board.

What are the three qualities that the school board needs the most now and how do you exemplify them?

I bring a broad base of knowledge and experience to the job, enabling me to vote with intelligence and confidence on complex issues such as finance, curriculum and student-employee-community relationships.  I have cooperative spirit, recognizing that success in achieving board goals and implementing ideas requires a team approach.  I have the courage to make difficult decisions, defend the philosophy and goals of the School District.

If elected what do you believe should be the school board’s first order of business?

The first order of business is always our children and their education.  The Board must seek to cooperatively create an environment for all students that encourages creative and productive academic, social and physical development.

Please explain your thoughts about the trimester system.

  • Students may enroll in a greater number and variety of elective courses.
  • Fewer preparations for teachers per trimester
  • 3 parent/teacher academic contacts during the year rather than 2.
  • All teacher have a daily prep period both Elementary, Jr. High school and High School
  • Encourages use of a variety of teaching methods. Lectures alone will not work for a longer period.
  • Lab oriented classes have more time for instruction, setting up, closure, etc.
  • Better use of the school day as there are fewer class changes.
  • Students who fail or fall behind have time to catch up and graduate on time.

What do you feel are the main issues surrounding the current budgetary concerns and how can the  Twin Bridges School Board help prevent such situations in the future?

In a small school district we are always concerned with declining enrollment.  Our school’s enrollment directly affects the operating budget.   We must strive to provide the best opportunities for all students which will encourage the desire to be a Twin Bridges Falcon.  As a board member, you must constantly be aware of current State & Federal legislation regarding education.  You must be capable of logically communicating and explaining the impact of any legislation that may have an impact upon the local district.  It is the responsibility of the Board to be fiscally conservative and set a working budget that does not jeopardizes the integrity and quality of our students’ education.

 

DAVID BANKS JR.

Why are you running for a position on the Twin Bridges School Board?

I want to volunteer in my community and get more involved. I want to make sure the school maintains a high standard for all of our children as I did at the Twin Bridges School. I have no hidden agenda, nor any axe to grind. I want to be involved in the education of the area students.

What do you believe qualifies and prepares you for this position?

I am a good candidate because I am very open-minded. I will look at all angles before and while making any decisions. I am a team player and do well working with others to make decisions, I do it on a daily basis where I work. I attended Twin Bridges schools K-12 and now have children attending the school so I have both an interest and advantage.

 What are the three qualities that the school board needs the most now and how do you exemplify them? 

The current board has many qualities that have been working great.  As in any board, sometimes new ideas only make the board better like really listening to the community on issues. Changing the meetings and special meetings to after hours so the working force can attend meetings.  Inviting the community is one thing but making the meeting at a time so they can attend is another thing. Posting all meetings in more public places, allowing more time for notice regarding these meetings so community has more opportunities to attend, post meeting date, and times on school web page.

If elected what do you believe should be the school board’s first order of business?

Similar to what I just wrote, meetings at a time where the community and staff can attend, posting meeting information where most can see it.  Finding well qualified staff to replace the openings and keep good classes off the chopping block (for example family consumer science).  Last but not least the school safety and what we can do to make it better.

Please explain your thoughts about the trimester system. 

I question if it is going to work.  Personally I don’t see the schedule giving the kids more options and most of all I don’t see the reason for fixing something that is not broken. I am not sold on school starting earlier in the day either.  We have students getting on the bus now at 7 in the morning, 15 minutes earlier will be harder.

What do you feel are the main issues surrounding the current budgetary concerns and how can the Twin Bridges School Board help prevent such situations in the future?

The main concern is how the school is going to make up the money for the budget. As far as preventing this from happening again we need to pay much closer attention to the monthly budget incoming and out going funds that we get from the county bookkeeping/treasurer at each meeting.

 

SHERIDAN

BILL WOOD

Why are you running for a position on the Sheridan School Board?

I am running for the board because I have children enrolled in the elementary and would like to have a positive influence in their education.  We have a great school and I want to do my part to help the school continue to succeed.

What do you believe qualifies and prepares you for this position?

In having served one term, I feel I have an understanding of how the board operates and how to handle some of the hurdles it faces.  I will continue to be a trustee that has the best interest of the teachers, students, parents, and community at heart.

What are the three qualities that the school board needs the most now and how do you exemplify them?

The first, most important quality that the school board needs to have is trustees that listen to what the publics concerns are.  A trustee is elected by the public to be their voice and to address the concerns that they have.  I think that I have done a good job of listening to the public in the past and will continue to do so.

Three years on the board has made me understand that a person needs to have experience to be an effective trustee.  Dealing with budgets, changing standards, and other school issues is something that takes time to understand.

The school board needs to have trustees that are not afraid to form their own opinions, and speak their minds in a public meeting.  A difference of opinion leads to discussion, and discussion leads to better ideas.

If elected what do you believe should be the school boards first order of business?

The school boards first order of business should be to get community support back behind the school.  We have such a great school with excellent staff, teachers and students.  I want to continue to be apart of reviving the pride our community has for the Sheridan School.

What is the most important issue currently facing Sheridan Schools?

The first important issue Sheridan Schools is facing is enrollment.  The school budget is directly influenced by the number of students we have.  The hardest thing for the board is to figure out how to offer the same classes to our students while dealing with a smaller budget.  My hope is with increasing community support, our enrollment will go up and we can continue to offer classes that challenge our students and prepare them for continuing education.

Another important issue is school safety.  Although we live in a rural area, and are less likely to experience a horrific event within our school, we need to do whatever possible to ensure the safety of our staff and students.  Parents should not have to worry about their children when they send them to school.

What do you believe is the school boards role in handling the implementation of the new common core standards?

The new common core standards ask a lot out of our students and teachers.  The board needs to make sure our faculty has all the tools, training and resources available, so they can maintain confidence in the new standards.

KAREN TALLEY

Why are you running for a position on the School Board?  

I have six years previous experience as a Sheridan Trustee and believe our school district is very important to this community, our kids and future. Having a working history as a Sheridan Trustee and varied education and work experience in multiple fields allows me to bring a broad perspective to the table.  I am a strong believer in teamwork; the great teachers in our system are a resource that should be leveraged to provide the best possible education.

What do you believe qualifies and prepares you for this position? 

I actively attend school board meetings, participate in school advisory committees, and keep up on school policy and law. In addition I have a passion for reviewing a broad spectrum of data from test scores, educational standards to budgetary numbers as to enhance my planning skills and the decision making process.

What are the three qualities that the school board needs the most now and how do you exemplify them? 

Leadership, Transparency and Vision.  As a board, we need to review and take action, where appropriate, on the recommendations of the four recent advisory committees ideas and input, work together to develop clear goals and objectives as a template for the administration to work from, and create a higher level of transparency for the public, staff and students in a variety of areas ranging from academic goals, staffing, infrastructure improvements and maintenance, ANB trends and budgets.  I have been active on two of the four recent Sheridan Advisory committees, am a strong believer in team work and am very open and direct in addressing any continuous improvement tasks for our students and district.

If elected what do you believe should be the school board’s first order of business? 

The first order of business is to work as a team with administration and staff to review the current year-end budget plans and expenditures then create the best budget plan for 2013-2014 considering estimates of ANB number for the next few years.  These discussions need to be transparent and should include review of programs, staffing along with current and future needs of our students at Sheridan Schools.

What is the most important issue currently facing Sheridan Schools?

Ensuring every decision at the Sheridan School is in the student’s best interest.  To successfully achieve this end, input and consideration from staff, students and parents is important.

What do you believe is the school board’s role in handling the implementation of the new core standards? 

The Common Core Standards or CCS are generally a good idea: standards for required course offerings are consistent across the state and students are able to apply and articulate concepts in core subject areas.  Our good instructors already implement this concept in various degrees.  The State’s CCSs standardize tests/standard seem to change every 6+/- years.  A decade ago the state used Iowa Tests of Educational Development, then CRT or Criterion-Reference Test and now a test that aligns with the CCSs as an evaluation tool in Montana schools.  The trustees need to only ensure the staff and administration are working together to ensure the student’s needs are a priority, curriculum is aligned for the standards and provide staff training and allow for work groups to align curriculum as needed.  I believe the trustees should encourage the administration to leverage off the techniques our great teachers are already using in the classroom.

 

MIKE DAVIDSON

Why are you running for a position on the School Board? 

As an American, a resident of Madison County and a resident of Sheridan, I feel with my life experience I bring much to offer everyone and especially our students.

What do you believe qualifies and prepares you for this position? 

As I mentioned above my life experiences.  I am happily married with a supportive wife.  I am the father of 3 great kids.  I have a daughter who is a freshman at MSU; I have a son who is a junior at Sheridan HS, and my son who is in Kindergarten.  I have my BS in Marketing from USU.  I have worked in the professional environment for over 25 years.  I have been a coach for 20 years.  I was a Scout Master and the list could go on.  The most important thing to take from this is can communicate and understand most people, but most important understanding our Kids.

What are the three qualities that the school board needs the most now and how do you exemplify them? 

I could say the budget and other items like that.  I feel what we need most in the town of Sheridan is team and town spirit.  I am not talking about sports alone; I am talking about the barriers and walls that separate us in such a small town.  Everything trickles from the top down, I am not saying there is a problem at the top, but somewhere we do not trickle down.  I have always been good at understanding and helping others.  We need help, and I feel I am one of those that can help.  Yes we need help with our budget, yes we need help with our testing, yes we need help in our sports programs, yes we need help with all getting along and helping our kids succeed to be successful in life.

If elected what do you believe should be the school board’s first order of business? 

We need to have a cohesive group in our school board, with our superintended and all of the parents.  We need to relook at everything and plan as a group what will be most beneficial for the kids

What is the most important issue currently facing Sheridan Schools?

From what I have seen: Why do we have so many students that attend Twin Bridges schools, Community and School pride, Budgets, and Testing.

What do you believe is the school board’s role in handing the implementation of the new core standards?

The school board should be fully involved with the implementation and there should be check and balances in place to make sure all goals are met for the 2014 school year.

 

HARRISON

DUSTIN WAGNER

Why are you running for a position on the Harrison School Board?

Involvement is absolutely necessary at any level, especially when my own children are involved in the school system.  I was approached by many concerned parents and community members asking me to sit on the board, after much consideration I felt compelled to submit my nomination.

What do you believe qualifies and prepares you for this position? 

I attended Harrison from elementary to graduation.  I have a Bachelors Degree in Business and operate a successful company.  I have 3 children all of whom I hope to attend school here.

What are the three qualities that the school board needs the most now and how do you exemplify them?

A level head, morality, and courage to follow through with the first two qualities.

If elected what do you believe should be the school board’s first order of business?

I am not running a campaign of my own agenda.  I simply want the board to be a benefit to the community and students.

How do you feel that the Harrison School Board should handle the current situation of declining enrollment and budget constraints?

One step at a time.

Explain your thoughts about Harrison School safety concerns and how they should be addressed.

School safety can only be stretched so far before the community is alienated.  School should be safe without the feeling of being locked in a prison.

 

PARKER TAYLOR

Why are you running for a position on the Harrison School Board?

I am running because I feel it is my duty to help the community.  I have been taught the value of community service since my youth, and when I heard there was an opening for a thankless, unpaid volunteer position that nobody else wanted, I saw my opportunity to help out.  My two kids both attend Harrison School, and I saw my opportunity to be their advocate on the board.  I think my background in education will be of value to the board, as well as my experience in dealing with government agencies.  This generation of children will lead us into the future and the only way they can do that is with an education that not only teaches them things they need to know, but also teaches them to keep learning.  Because once you stop learning, you’re done.

What do you believe qualifies and prepares you for this position? 

I have a background in education.  Before entering military life, I went to college and was going to be a teacher.  I like to say I joined the Army because teaching was too hard!  I tend not to take myself too seriously, and I’m known to bring a little bit of comic relief to meetings.  However, this does not mean I don’t take my job seriously.  I am very passionate about the work that I do, and I recognize the importance of the duty that is placed upon us.  With two children who attend Harrison School, I have a vested interest in the future of the school, and I am looking forward to doing my part in helping to face the challenges ahead of us.

What are the three qualities that the school board needs the most now and how do you exemplify them?

First is the ability to make tough decisions.  Harrison School is facing serious challenges and the next few years aren’t going to get any easier.  We need to set priorities and let our choices reflect what we deem most important.

Second is compassion.  Knowing that some of the decisions that the board needs to make will affect people’s lives, it is important to go into that with a great deal of care and empathy for the people who will feel the brunt of the cuts that we need to make.

Third is an open mind.  The board has already received input from staff, students, and the community as to how we can cut spending while still providing a quality education.  The board needs to consider input from all sources, and put all options on the table before making a decision that is the best for everyone involved.

If elected what do you believe should be the school board’s first order of business?

The board’s first order of business should be to get our fiscal house in order for the coming school year, and start looking at what cuts we can make for the next few years.  Our top priority is, and will be for a while, trimming our spending to match our ever-shrinking pocketbook.  With that, we need to set priorities so that we are still providing the level of education that our school is known for, and not shooting ourselves in the foot down the road.

How do you feel that the Harrison School Board should handle the current situation of declining enrollment and budget constraints?

This is one area where we are going to have to be very proactive, almost aggressive in preparing for the next few years.  We need to be making decisions not just for this year and the next, but planning for years in advance to ensure that the school stays solvent and ready to provide the best education possible to our children.  We need to consider all the options, all the possible outcomes, and make a plan that fits both our priorities and our budget.

Explain your thoughts about Harrison School safety concerns and how they should be addressed.

School safety is a priority, but at the current time our belts are already going to be tight enough. Unless we are handed a pile of money specifically earmarked for those types of upgrades, we are going to have to put that on the back burner for a while.  Any improvements we want to make to improve the safety of our school will, for the moment, have to come at zero cost.

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